10.14.2010 / The Significance of the Blackshirts. Blog posting by Mike Babcock, Huskers Illustrated Magazine.

When the black practice jerseys were distributed to a select few of his defensive teammates in mid-October last football season, the significance was lost on Eric Martin. Martin is from Moreno Valley, California and was not familiar with the Cornhuskers Blackshirt tradition.

"You get one, and that is when you start realizing what it means, Martin said."

“I didn’t really know what it meant,” Nebraska’s sophomore linebacker said. But he does now. “You get one, and that’s when you start realizing what it means,” he said.  “You’ve got to be a leader. You’ve got to step up when everybody else doesn’t want to, through the pain, through injury. You gotta fight it. There’s no taking a break, basically.”

Martin was among 12 defenders awarded Blackshirts on the Thursday before the South Dakota State game. He and five others received them for the first time. He called home and talked to one of his high school coaches, who told him about the Blackshirts, a tradition dating to 1964, when black contrast jerseys were first distributed.

“A lot of people back at home, they follow Nebraska football, and they kind of like were talking to me about it when they found out I got one,” said Martin.  “I think it’s one of the most important things on our team. I think it represents everything that a true football player has, like leadership, hard work. It means all the attributes a football player is supposed to have, and if you get one, it means you have those attributes.”

Originally, Blackshirts were handed out to first-team defenders and collected afterward. Then, they were typically handed out at the end of two-a-day practices. Coach Bo Pelini has decided not to distribute them until they have been earned in game competition. His first season, they weren’t handed out until after the Kansas game in early November. Last season, they weren’t handed out until the week before the Texas Tech game.

This season, Pelini said that after the Washington game was the right time. “It doesn’t really matter when you get it,” Martin said. “It’s just how you get it. You’ve got to deserve it. You’ve got to have all the attributes, just to wear one in practice. “You’re only a handful of people out there that have one. It just makes you step up.”

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